Sports > Rams > Story
By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Not too long ago, Tye Hill and Jonathan Wade ran into each other on the college track circuit.
"I ran against him a few times, but you know who came out on top of that," Hill said.
Funny, but Wade has a different recollection.
"I met Tye three years ago at a track meet in Carolina," Wade said. "We were on the same leg."
What happened? "Ask him," Wade said, confidently.
"I don't know what memory he's got," countered Hill, a Rams starting cornerback. "He's a good 200 runner. But anything in the 100 and below, no. Just go back and look at the time at the (NFL scouting) combine."
Hill, out of Clemson, ran the 40 in 4.34 seconds at the 2006 combine. A year later, Wade, who played for the University of Tennessee, ran a 4.36 at the combine.
Advantage Hill, but just barely.
Make no mistake, Wade is very fast, even by NFL standards. It's only fitting then, that the Rams have put him on the fast track at cornerback.
Wade originally was labeled as a pick to add depth to the roster, a player who wouldn't have to contribute much this season when the Rams took him in the third round (No. 84 overall) last April.
But in early June, veteran Jerametrius Butler was released. In early July, starter Fakhir Brown was suspended four games for violating terms of the NFL's substance abuse program. On Thursday, the Rams released veteran cornerback Mike Rumph.
Suddenly, Wade is no worse than the team's fourth cornerback. He has been getting plenty of reps with the starting defensive unit in training camp, and is battling Lenny Walls for the No. 3 corner spot. Barring a successful appeal by Brown, the winner of that battle will be on the field in nickel situations for the first four games of the season.
"I anticipate that he's going to continue to compete to be on the field on defense, whether he's at corner or in the nickel spot," coach Scott Linehan said of Wade. "That's our goal. He has not disappointed. He has really improved."
Wade certainly has the speed to play the corner spot in the NFL. He has decent size for the position (5 feet 10, 195 pounds) and has shown a competitive streak on the practice field at Rams Park. But he needs plenty of technique work, occasionally drawing pointed instruction from secondary coach Willy Robinson on the practice field.
After yet another hot, sweaty camp practice, Wade wasn't close to declaring that he has this NFL thing down.
"I think every day's bad," he said. "But you've got to keep working. That's what we're out here for. ... It's about getting better each and every day."
Modesty aside, Wade wants to take advantage of any opportunity that might come his way this season.
"Me personally, since I was younger, I've always tried to envision myself as being a star," Wade said. "Being a player."
But cornerback remains a new position for him. A state champion in the 100 and 200 meters at Evangel Christian High in Shreveport, La., Wade was recruited to play wide receiver at Tennessee. He didn't become a full-time starter at cornerback until his senior season with the Volunteers. Linehan and his defensive coaches saw enough of Wade going up against elite receivers in the Southeastern Conference to believe he could make a successful transition to the NFL.
"There was never an issue that he had any match-up problems as far as keeping up with people," Linehan said after drafting Wade. "He has great speed — catch-up speed — and all those things you need to have as a corner, and has the instincts for it."
Wade, who gave up track before his senior year in college, made it a point to work on his conditioning during the break between the end of the offseason program and the start of training camp. The idea is to minimize getting run ragged by star wide receivers Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce in training camp.
"Tye said Torry and Isaac are the best two receivers he has ever seen," Wade said. "And he said, 'You get to get beat by them every day, so get used to it."
Wade has been beaten his share of times by the duo so far in camp, but he's enjoying the matchups and learning from them.
"It's been fun," Wade said. "Very entertaining. They mess with me a lot, but I know it's all right because they want me to get better and help this team out."